Like a wave, the fungal disease that wipes out frogs—chytridiomycosis—is advancing through the Central American highlands at a rate of about 30 kilometers per year. After the disappearance of Costa Rica's golden frogs in the 1980s, Karen Lips, associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland, quickly established a monitoring program at untouched sites in neighboring Panama.
Of the 63 species that she identified during surveys of Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé from 1998 to 2004, 25 species disappeared from the site in the subsequent epidemic. As of 2008, none of these species had reappeared there.
Were there additional species in the park not previously known to scientists? To find out, the authors used a genetic technique called DNA barcoding to quickly estimate that another 11 unnamed or "candidate" species were also present. In DNA barcoding, short genetic sequences that uniquely identify known species are generated and stored in public databases. By comparing DNA profiles from unknown organisms to the databases, researchers can identify biological specimens quickly, and construct genetic lineages. Combining the field data with the reconstructed genetic lineages, the authors discovered that five of these unnamed species were also wiped out.
"It's sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them," said Andrew Crawford, former postdoctoral fellow at STRI and member of the Círculo Herpetológico de Panamá, now at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "Our DNA barcode data reveal new species even at this relatively well-studied site, yet the field sampling shows that many of these species new to science are already gone here."
An epidemic that wipes out a whole group of organisms is like the fire that burned the famous library of Alexandria. It destroys a huge amount of accumulated information about how life has coped with change in the past. Species surveys are like counting the number of different titles in the library, whereas a genetic survey is like counting the number of different words.
"When you lose the words, you lose the potential to make new books," said Lips, who directs the University of Maryland graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS). "It's like the extinction of the dinosaurs. The areas where the disease has passed through are like graveyards; there's a void to be filled and we don't know what will happen as a result."
"This is the first time that we've used genetic barcodes—DNA sequences unique to each living organism—to characterize an entire amphibian community," said Eldredge Bermingham, STRI director and co-author. "STRI has also done barcoding on this scale for tropical trees on in our forest dynamics-monitoring plot in Panama. The before-and-after approach we took with the frogs tells us exactly what was lost to this deadly disease—33 percent of their evolutionary history."
The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bay and Paul Foundation funded the field work for this study, which is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Collection permits were provided by Panama's Environmental Authority, ANAM.
STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: www.stri.org.
The University of Maryland Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS) Graduate Program trains leaders in conservation biology and development programs and provides them with the multidisciplinary, conceptual and experiential learning experience necessary to address the biodiversity crisis that now faces the planet. Website: http://cons.umd.edu.
Ref: Andrew J. Crawford, Karen R. Lips and Eldredge Bermingham. 2010. Epidemic disease decimates amphibian abundance, species diversity and evolutionary history in the highlands of central Panama. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. online Early Edition, week of July 19.
Lee Tune | EurekAlert!
Modern genetic sequencing tools give clearer picture of how corals are related
17.08.2017 | University of Washington
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy